Updated: Nov 21, 2020
Using mindset work to feel less stuck in work and in life (Part I)
This is the question my four year old blurted out one day as she drew some animals on a pad on the floor of my office. I cannot explain just how mortified I felt. I wasn’t even on my phone at the time, but her comment cut like a knife. Not because it was true, but because she had to ask. How could she think that? Of course I loved her so very much! Surely I had demonstrated that when we had our home spa-movie day or when we played tea party for the Nth time or any of the other numerous things we do together? I know she can see I’m not just sitting on the sofa watching TV or chatting to friends for hours or disappearing for hours shopping or something that would indicate excessive leisure time. In fact, I don’t have any leisure time! If I am sitting down and I’m on my phone, I’m working, checking the non-stop emails and messages.
And then it dawned on me, the above description was in fact her point… while I felt I was doing my best to be a parent, to keep a thriving psychology and case management business going, to keep the house in order and clean, to manage the meals, to ensure everyone in the house was OK (we live with my elderly father), find time for my husband, get some exercise in etc, I was basically spreading myself so thin that my own child didn’t feel she had me enough…and, as difficult as this is to admit, I realised I wasn’t particularly enjoying this life I was living either! I certainly wasn’t always pleasant to be around as the stress piled up and I ran the risk of burning out. On paper, it might look like an impressive or worthwhile life, but I know I was constantly feeling like I was failing my family, neglecting my fitness, stressing about daily chores (usually cooking as I’m not a natural cook) and I was clearly overworking!! And now my little girl was left unsure of how I felt about her.
This is not meant to be yet another blog to demonstrate how busy business women who have young families struggle, but it is an opportunity for me for the first time to share the truth of my life. I feel scared writing this — it wasn’t easy and it took me a while to convince myself to do it. But, I decided to share the fullest of my experience which actually includes how I got out of this conundrum using my therapy skills, a box of tissues and a massive dose of not avoiding the truth of the matter that this was not the life balance I meant to set up.
I decided that I need to stop my mind getting in the way of my life. Resetting my mind aka mindset work. This concept sits very well with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT is an approach that draws on a number of philosophies (humanistic, existential, cognitive, mindfulness) to support a process of accepting what you cannot change and doing more of the enjoyable things you have access to. It’s a fairly simple approach that can have some pretty profound impact on those who use it to challenge feelings that are painful, but honest and real. Only then can mindset work make changes for the better.
So, armed with ACT and the words of my child echoing painfully in my mind, this is what I did:
1. Am I living a life I enjoy?
This is a crucial first question to ask and the answer requires brutal honesty.
In the phase of my life I described above, I was beginning to not enjoy myself. I was not relating well to my family members, I was not doing anything enjoyable and it was hard to not focus on all the things I wasn’t doing or hadn’t done! While I was able to cope, I didn’t really want to live like this. I was not really living a life I enjoyed. It’s hard to say this and I notice how I feel anxious admitting to this
2. Tombstone — harsh, but effective exercise
Do you ever watch those Goalcast videos? The ones where people somehow tap into their passions and then go on to life a fulfilled life? I love them! I find many of them inspirational — I am struck by how powerful a true understanding of oneself can lead to a life that seems so comfortable and authentic. What three things do I stand for?
The tombstone exercise creates an end point from which you can work back to where you are now to help bring out your values for a life you’re actually excited to live. Identifying your own values can then run into every domain of your life, be it family, work, leisure, health, or anything else. Losing track of living a values-based life can feel like a stone in a shoe or a meal you just can’t get right: uncomfortable, painful and frustrating. You go on living with the fact that something is not quite right. Russ Harris has created a checklist to help determine values.
For me, three things I would want people to know that I valued and I stood for are: loving my family and friends and being available for them, working hard for those I work with and for, being generous and supportive.
3. So, what’s my mission, now that I’ve discovered my values?
If you conceptualise values as being what dictates the direction of your life, much like a compass, then you have clarity about how you might manage the different demands placed on you. From your values, you will have goals and your goals will help you work towards your overall mission.
It helps simply to consider what actions you need to achieve your goals and therefore, your mission. This might seem like a more academic exercise, but committing your mission to paper and revising it until it feels right can become almost your own personal mantra that captures the essence of the life you want to create. For me, pulling together family, work, wellbeing and my personality into a mission statement looked something like this:
”I want to create a life that allows me to live my values. The things I value most in life are family/friends, work and health. My values will help me have more of these in my life by running a sustainable service with Associates I can use my skills with to support and supervise. I can then fit this role more easily around my family’s changeable needs and my need for regular wellbeing activities which will contribute positively to my physical and mental health. I can then be more present for my clients/colleagues, family and myself which will feel more balanced and enjoyable.”
There is more to it when you delve into mindset work and it can be quite a full-on exercise to undertake so if you do engage with any of the work even as lightly as I have described above, I encourage you to let go of any emotions you experience by simply breathing in and out at a rate that is comfortable for you…
It isn’t an easy process at times. For me, my daughter’s words have been hugely motivating, but incredibly painful, but I knew I needed to take this transformative journey. It has brought up some pretty strong beliefs about myself which is what I talk about in Part II. In the next part, I share some of those negative self-concepts that threatened to slow my flow and how I used some more ACT tricks to help overcome. I was empowered by my new-found values and I didn’t want these sticky feelings to get in my way — when you’re on a roll, you just don’t need those bumps!
But, for now, I would like to invite you to use the approach in this chapter with any barriers or blockages you have currently, or when life is slipping in a direction that feels stressful. Pause, ACT and breathe. And see you next time for Part II.
Wishing you the very best wellbeing.